News Brief

HIV prevalence in the country has dipped only negligibly, shows report

But some states such as Gujarat, Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have shown a rise in the prevalence of the virus.

The overall prevalence of the human immunodeficiency virus in India has reduced, the HIV Sentinel Surveillance 2016-2017 said on Wednesday. However, states like Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar have shown a rise in the prevalence of the virus, “indicative of continuing rising epidemic”, among pregnant women.

The prevalence of HIV among pregnant women in the country has dropped negligibly from 0.29% of the population in 2014-’15 to 0.28% in 2016-’17. Numbers of HIV cases among pregnant women are considered a proxy for the prevalence in general population.

The North Eastern states of Mizoram (1.19%), Nagaland (0.82%), Meghalaya (0.56%) Tripura (0.56 %) and Manipur (0.47%) have the highest prevalence of HIV among pregnant women in the country. Except Manipur, all these North Eastern states display higher prevalence of the virus than before.

But the other states, which have prevalence rates among antenatal women higher than the national average, were Gujarat (0.44%), Chhattisgarh (0.35%), Delhi (0.38%). These states do not traditionally have high HIV rates.

The states which have earlier had more cases of the virus include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. The Aids Control Programme has traditionally concentrated on these states.

Of the high risk populations of female sex workers, men having sex with men, transgenders, truckers, and injectable drug users, the highest prevalence is among injectable drug users. The prevalence of HIV among female sex workers tested is 1.56%, among the MSM is 2.69%, injectable drug users is 6.26, transgenders is 3.14%, and truckers is 0.86%. While the prevalence rates of HIV among pregnant women in these states is still high, it has shown a declining trend over the years.

The report said that in Meghalaya and Manipur, the high prevalence of HIV “points to an epidemic largely fuelled by injecting drug behaviour but also supported through commercial exchange of sex,” said the report. Besides the North Eastern states, “injecting drug behaviour” is also fuelling the epidemic in north India, mainly Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

The higher prevalence of HIV among single migrant men and long-distance truckers is also adding to the burden. The report said that analysis has shown that pregnant women with a migrant spouse have shown higher rates of contracting HIV in some states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Manipur and Nagaland. In Manipur and Nagaland, pregnant women with a migrant spouse were two to three times more likely to be HIV positive than the pregnant women with non-migrant spouse, the report said.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.